From nurse to CEO, Vickie Diamond is ready to pass the mantle
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jul 24, 2017
After almost five decades in health care, and 13 years at Wyoming Medical Center, President and CEO Vickie Diamond retires on Aug. 1.
“Wyoming Medical Center has been a wonderful organization to work for, and I will miss everyone. However, it is time for me to enter the next phase in my life and time for new leadership to take the helm,” she said. “My heart will always be with WMC and with the people who serve here.”
Diamond came to Wyoming Medical Center in July 2004 as Chief Nursing Officer. She was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 2005 and was selected CEO on Feb. 28, 2008. She has worked alongside Wyoming legislators to improve health care across the state. She has served as board president of the Wyoming Hospital Association and chairwoman of the Region 8 Policy Board for the American Hospital Association.
Diamond is working with the incoming CEO, Michele Chulick, through the end of July to ensure a seamless transition. In the interview below, she reflects on her career, beginning as a nurse in a VA hospital in Washington, D.C.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Kansas and lived there until the fourth grade when we moved to Colorado. That’s where I grew up from then on.
Why did you go into health care?
I have always wanted to help people, and I just wanted to go to college. I wanted to be the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college. Then, there were a lot of three-year nursing schools, and my high school counselors were encouraging me to enroll in one of those. But I wanted a college degree, so I attended University of Colorado.
What did your parents do?
My parents were born and raised on farms in Kansas. My dad was into farm implements. My mom was a stay-at-home mom.
Were they pretty proud to see you graduate from college?
Yes, they were very proud. I graduated in the big stadium at Folsom Field and my parents were happy to be there. I had been married for just about a year and my husband, Rick, was in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he could not come back until five days later as they would not let him out early.
Tell us about your husband.
Rick is a retired periodontist. We went steady in high school together. He was a National Merit Scholar, and we were both in National Honor Society. But we both had careers we wanted to pursue, so we broke up before college.
Then, we ran into each other a couple years later at the University of Colorado. I can remember that it was right in front of Folsom on the crosswalk. We reconnected and that was it. It was meant to be.
How long have you been married?
Forty-nine years in April.
What did you do after graduation?
Rick had just got back from Vietnam and I had just passed my boards. He had one year left. He was a medic in Vietnam, so he worked in the operating room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We lived right across the street. The place that paid the most money – $13,200 a year – was the VA Hospital in Washington, D.C. So, for my first job, I was a nurse on a medical unit of 40 beds on the evening shift. There was primarily one registered nurse, one LPN (licensed practical nurse), and one aide for 40 patients. We often had people in sickle cell crisis, people in delirium tremens during detox; It was unbelievable. I learned a lot quickly.
It made me a better nurse as I learned that I had to organize my day. I had to set priorities. You had to know who your sickest patients were. You had to use your resources.
How many years were you there?
Just one. Then, Rick finished up his undergraduate, and I worked at Boulder Community Hospital. I started out in pediatrics and then went to the ICU. He had six months between getting out of school and going to dental school, so we spent six months in Pennsylvania where I worked in a hospital and he worked in the coal mines. His dad was a coal miner.
I earned my nurse practitioner license and we moved to Cleveland where I worked at the VA. That was the very first government-funded nurse practitioner program.
Did you like working with veterans?
Vets are great people and have come through a lot. Most of the veterans who go to the VA, at least then, had a service injury of some sort. They are appreciative of their care, and people who appreciate care, you can do a lot for them. I worked in an internal medicine clinic with another physician. I learned my pathology working in what is called an “admitting department” at the VA. That is where you see pathology walk in the door like you cannot believe – anything from lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, all the strange things.
Then Rick did an internship at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. That is where I had my son. I taught nursing school and a two-year nursing program at Fayetteville for a year. Then, Rick got assigned to Germany, and I was the first civilian nurse practitioner in Europe. I ran clinics there for the military.
We spent about four years and came back in 1982. I went back to the University of Colorado and got my master’s and then worked at Penrose Hospital there as an administrative director and head of their home health agency.
Why did you want to go into administration?
I felt that the only way you could win in health care was to be in a lead role to change it. I wanted leaders to understand how care is delivered and what it is like to be at the bedside. I wanted to find ways to make the environment more conducive for the provider and for the nurse, or whoever was there with the patient.
How did you get to Wyoming Medical Center?
We moved to Maryland where I was a pediatric manager and moved up to director and vice president of nursing. We spent 17 years in Maryland, and I had about 20 years of leadership at that time. I learned about health care systems and how they impacted care.
I came to Wyoming Medical Center in 2004. We always wanted to come back West, and the opportunity for Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) opened here.
I think the biggest thing that attracted me is that Pam Fulks was CEO and she had also been a nurse. We connected well. Our hospital was pretty progressive in Maryland and did some interesting service-line things, and WMC was interested in that. I think in the interview process I just really liked the people.
What were some initiatives you worked on right away?
When I got here, there was a pretty good rivalry between some of the departments. They got along, but they were at odds. Critical care got this, and medical/surgery got this, and on and on. I took some advice from an HR vice president that I admired greatly who said: “First thing you do is go in and wait 90 days. Just listen.” People often fail because they do not learn the culture of a new place. So, I started interviewing people and writing things down. I found out what the issues were, examined our care, and did a synopsis. I got a retreat together with all the nurse managers and gave them feedback. I asked, “How are we going to move forward?” I looked at the data, and they were amazed that I could peg our culture so well.
One thing I learned really quickly here was that in order to create a good relationship with the medical staff, they wanted you to solve the problems, and you had to make sure you told them when you had solved the problems. You had to be attentive. My idea was to improve nursing care, improve patient care and I always believed that the job of leadership was to provide the resources for the people who are in direct care with patients. That is the focus of our job. These are the ones who touch the patients.
When did you move to CEO?
It came about three years later. I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer/ Senior Vice President of Patient Care, and I took on oversight of the clinical side. Pam then left and the board made me interim CEO. I did not apply for the job, but did that for six months. Then, we hired a CEO who did not work out, so I was back in the interim roll. Then, the board asked me to just take the CEO role. At that time, I knew I could do the job. So that is how I got into it.
What are some of the accomplishments of which you are most proud?
Probably our safety journey. When I came here, I started compiling all of the risk and safety data. We used to see a safety incident here, one there, but we saw them in chunks and never really put them together to see patterns. I said that we needed to do something.
I got the board to OK a quality committee as a Chief Operating Officer, and that has probably been my biggest accomplishment. The board will probably tell you that as well. I felt as a CEO, I could still stay collaborative and really improve patient care by making sure that we had the right environment for our staff.
I’m also very proud of the Joint Operations Board (JOB), a collaboration between administration and medical staff. Our medical staff thought that administration was making decisions without them being involved. I started working with a group of physicians to find better ways to work together. We created a Joint Operations Board, but made it a committee of the Board of Directors. It truly is a co-leadership system between administration and physicians. When you talk with the physicians, they think it is the best thing that has ever happened.
One of the other things that I have been able to bring to Wyoming Medical Center is being the first woman chair of the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Regional Policy Board for Region 8. I was also the first nurse, and I served on the AHA’s board of trustees. I was only the second person from Wyoming to serve as an AHA trustee since 1908. I was able to bring that national perspective here, and was able to have my voice heard at the national level on policy and what it is like to provide health care in a frontier state.
What led to your decision to retire?
I am starting my ninth year as CEO and/or COO. My husband and I want to do things while we are still healthy enough to do them. I do believe it is time for somebody else to take Wyoming Medical Center to the next level. This is bittersweet for me. I just loved to get up and come here every day. I think this hospital is a true family. It is a community jewel that I do not think some people value as well as they could. We provide outstanding care.
My goal is to make the transition to the new leadership as successful as it can be. I think I am one of the longest surviving CEOs in this organization.
In your opinion, what are some upcoming challenges for Wyoming Medical Center and health care?
The big challenge facing hospitals across the country is: How are we going to provide health care to the uninsured? Our state is not a state that expanded Medicaid, so what does that mean to us as lawmakers work to repeal or change the Affordable Care Act? I think the biggest challenge moving forward will be affording health care.
Another challenge for Wyoming Medical Center is: How do you stay competitive in a three-hospital town? I think that many hospitals in Wyoming are going to be picked off by these bigger systems, so how can Wyoming Medical Center stay independent?
What will you do on Aug. 1, the first day of your retirement?
My grandkids will be here to celebrate with us. They are ages 6 and 8, and they will be here for my retirement party on Aug. 5.
One of the first things I am going to do is make sure that I de-clutter my house. When you work full time you just shove things around.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The people at Wyoming Medical Center who care for patients, who have cared for both me and my family, are outstanding. This is an absolutely outstanding hospital. I want to thank everybody for the privilege of letting me serve as CEO. It is truly a privilege and an honor.